Students Condemn Lack of Action 2 Years on from AHRC Report

By Rebecca Zhong

Content warning: sexual assault, sexual harassment, institutional betrayal

Today is the two-year anniversary of the release of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s (AHRC) Change the Course Report on sexual assault and sexual harassment at Australian universities. Student activists have marked the occasion by planting black flags in the Kambri lawns, and staging a sit-in outside the University’s Foundation Day lecture. ANUSA, PARSA, and the Women’s Department have released their own report, One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, which highlights a lack of communication from University administration and ongoing delays in the delivery of a number of initiatives intended to address the findings of the AHRC report. 

ANUSA and PARSA Release Progress Report

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back is the second report on ANU’s progress on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment (SASH) issues on campus. These progress reports are based on the  recommendations and KPIs made by ANUSA and PARSA in 2017, in light of the original AHRC report.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back acknowledges the work that has been undertaken by the Respectful Relationships Unit (RRU), established by the ANU in January this year, but adds that students have been faced with “the same bureaucratic issues which have impeded progress in the past.” One such issue is the fact that the Respectful Relationships Working Group has met just once in 2019. The report also raises concerns about the Working Group’s capabilities and sustainability, noting that the Group received “so little resourcing as to be ineffective.”

The report also expresses disappointment at delays to the implementation of the ANU Code of Conduct and the Sexual Violence Strategic Plan (SVPS), as both documents have been subject to re-drafts. ANU took over responsibility for the creation of the Code of Conduct after initial drafting by students. According to the report, communication from the University indicates that the “scope and purpose of this document has once again shifted”. The resulting delay is described as “extremely disappointing”, with the report stressing that “this document must … become a strategic and cultural priority for the ANU.” 

The SVPS has also undergone changes. “Major re-drafts” have been made to the Strategy, even after its approval the previous and current Student Working and Steering Groups. The report points out that “significant work” had gone intothe SVPS prior to the redraft, and raises concerns that “the community has still not been informed as to why this document has to be revisited”.

Shortcomings are also highlighted in the Nous Residential Review, particularly in relation to “significant steps” taken by the ANU with limited student involvement. Notably, student presidents were only given one physical copy of the Nous Group report, and were “summarily refused” meetings and consultation with “key people” behind the review.

Concerns are also raised about a lack of developments on a second survey into sexual violence scheduled for this year. The ANU had committed to undertake a follow-up to the 2018 survey. At the Pizza with Brian forum last week, VC Brian Schmidt said a “pilot survey” is currently being developed for release this year. According to Schmidt, the pilot survey will “inform the methodology” of a full, university-wide survey next year.

Additionally, the One Step Forward report says that the development of an online reporting tool for SASH issues also appears to have “completely run out of steam”. Despite workshops and consultations for the project in late 2018 and early 2019, there have since been “significant and unexplained delays” in its delivery. 

Another initiative which appears to have halted are the restorative justice workshops held earlier in the year. Workshop outcomes were not communicated to staff and students at ANUSA, PARSA or the Women’s Department.

Students Black Out ANUSA Office, Plant Flags, Sit-In

Student activists held a number of events to mark the anniversary of the AHRC report. 

Throughout the morning and afternoon, black flags were planted and the areas around the ANUSA offices in Kambri were blacked out as part of action in solidarity with survivors of sexual violence. ANUSA, PARSA and the Women’s Department hosted a sit-in outside University House, where the ANU Foundation Day Lecture was held.

Foundation Day Lectures are held as part of celebrations for the anniversary of ANU’s establishment —the Act creating ANU was passed on 1 August 1946. This also coincides with the anniversary of the AHRC report’s publication on 1 August 2017. 

A University spokesperson said, “The decision to release the [Change the Course] report on 1 August was a decision made by the Australian Human Rights Commission and Universities Australia”. The spokesperson told Observer, “We always hold events on this day, as is appropriate.” ANU’s 2018 Foundation Day Lecture was held on 31 July, and in 2017, celebrations were held on 2 August.

ANUSA Women’s Officers Nupur Apte and Siang Jin Law said that the decision to host the Lecture on 1 August, “which has been a day to stand in solidarity with survivors” since 2017, reflects “a lack of concern for the welfare of survivors and the safety of students.” The sit-in was initially planned to be held in the Kambri precinct, but was moved to University House, the site of the Foundation Day lecture.

The One Step Forward, Two Steps Back report was read out by the ANUSA and PARSA presidents, alongside the Women’s Officers, over the course of the sit-in, and one student spoke of their frustration at the lack of progress being made by the University. 

Observer understands that the event ended about 30 minutes earlier than initially scheduled, as the Foundation Day Lecture had concluded earlier than advertised. As a result, many Lecture attendees had already left the venue before the sit-in began.

If you have been sexually assaulted, or affected by a sexual assault, support is available:

Canberra Rape Crisis Centre: (02) 6247 2525 (7am-11pm)

1800 RESPECT (24/7)

ANU Counselling: 02 6125 2442 (9am-5pm, Mon-Fri)

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